Can You Love a Pet Too Much?

Is it possible for humans to love animals too much?

It has been 15 months since I took my Miniature Schnauzer, Katy, to the vet and had her put to sleep.  No, not put to sleep. Let’s call it what it is:  I had her put to death.  It was 9:14 a.m. on a Saturday morning when the vet inserted the needle into her leg.  I was holding her closely, whispering “It’ll be alright. I’ve got you.” into her ear.  Seconds later she slumped limply onto the table, strangely heavy in my arms.  The vet put his stethoscope against her chest and pronounced that she was gone.  I thought my heart would simply break.

It came upon me so suddenly that I was unprepared. Maybe the vet and his nurse had heard it before—a grown man’s anguished sobs.  I didn’t really care if they saw me or not.  I couldn’t really help it.  The nurse was sympathetic, saying, “It can be so hard to say goodbye.”  I choked out a “Yes, it is. She was such a good girl—my baby.”  She had been my dog for 14 years—now she was nothing.  Her little heart, always so strong, was stopped.  And I did it.  I murdered my little girl and the pain and guilt that descended on me was a horror.

Katy at 3

Katy as a young dog

I drove her to that vet in my truck that morning as she sat quietly, staring straight ahead during the drive–looking neither left nor right.  Not at all like the younger Katy.  Younger Katy was always up against the window, trying in vain to stick her head out of the crack, and barking at anything that moved.  What a joy she was in her youthful vigor.  But on this day she didn’t try to get up on the door. Her eyes had cataracts so she couldn’t see very well, and her hearing was going too.  Her body had become covered with tumors, and she often yelped in pain when I tried to pick her up. There were some mornings when she appeared unable to get out of her bed.  Sometimes she limped, and she often vomited up her food.  It seemed I was in danger of waiting too long.  I hated to see her struggle.

Still, she had her days when she trotted around almost like her old self.  It was those times that gave strength to my argument that she still had many good days ahead of her.  I guess I’ll never know if it was the right time, and it’s pointless to debate it now.

I have no way of knowing what was going through her mind on the trip to the vet, just that she knew she was with me and she trusted me.  I rubbed her neck the entire way, hating the reason for the trip and somehow resolved to go through with it anyway.  It rained all that morning and between the rain and my tears I could barely see the road.

No one in the family really ever pressured me to put her to sleep, but it was the general consensus from everyone that it was “her time.”  And that I would be the one to have to do it.  It’s perverse, actually, to think that the person the animal most trusts in the world should be responsible for their death.  All of the family loved Katy, and there were many long faces that morning. I knew I had to do it—that it was selfish of us humans to hang onto pets who are clearly in pain.  But it’s so difficult to know if you are doing the right thing, or if it truly is the right time.  Even though everyone else seemed to agree, down inside I just didn’t want to let go.  And yet, I couldn’t let anyone else do it.  I had to be there for her at the end.

Katy at 14

Katy at 14

Earlier that morning Katy was running up and down the road—as best she could—following the other dogs on their morning run.  She was almost her old self—so much so that I nearly put it off.  After all, she was still meeting my car after work on most days.  She would manage to get to the door before I opened it and wag her stump of a tail in anticipation.  As I got nearer to the vet’s office I found myself thinking of that.  How I would miss her so, and that she would never greet my car again.

I think that having her euthanized was maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I immediately had regrets, I had guilt.  I just kept crying on the way back from the vet and accusing myself of taking her too soon. I was crying and repeating out loud to myself, “I murdered my little girl.” I thought I would die from grief.  It might sound silly to read that, but I had never hated myself so much.

For months afterward I kept thinking that I could still have had her with me if only I had waited.  I kept playing the “what if?” game. Friends and relatives assured me it had been for the best.  I hope so, for to this day it hurts to look at her picture.  I can still feel her silky soft fur, hear her little “woo-woo” howl (so unlike any other dog), and feel her lying next to me on the couch.  She never took a bad photo and they all remind me of what I lost. I keep picturing that cute little button nose and floppy ears.

I knew the day would come when we said goodbye. I just wasn’t ready for it when it came—I really wasn’t.  All too soon she was gone and placed in a hole on the farm.  Co-workers told me I’d get over it, and asked if I couldn’t  just get another dog?  Like they were interchangeable.  Like all I needed was another animal and I would forget all about Katy, and things would go back to normal.  If only.  Like all pets, Katy was unique.  There is no other her.  There may one day be another dog or cat I love just as much–if in a different way–but Katy can’t be replaced.

I did mourn her, and I have had to accept that I did the right thing.  But I don’t know if I can have a pet euthanized again.  It hurt too much.

Sometimes, life just sucks.

© Wade Kingston